For people who don’t have much time, a trip to Kanchanaburi is an ideal option. The province, which is the third largest in Thailand, is so diverse that there is plenty to see and do. The landscape has both mountains and plains. Natural beauty includes the waterfalls and national parks. There are also limestone caves, tranquil rivers, forests and reservoirs. You can go bamboo rafting, elephant riding, trekking into the forests and a lot more. The province is also historically important because of the infamous death railway.
You can visit Kanchanaburi as a day trip from Bangkok. You can even join day tours organized by the State Railway of Thailand. These are relatively inexpensive if your time is limited. But, I would suggest you go by yourself. The first time I went there, I went by train. Travel third class and you will have a great time with ordinary Thai people. However, the four or five times I have been back I have driven there myself. From Central Bangkok, it takes just over two hours.
I would suggest that you stay in Kanchanaburi at least two nights and three days. There is plenty of guesthouse accommodation down near the river which is quite inexpensive. Unless it is a holiday weekend, you don’t need to book in advance. We went during the last long weekend and had a little difficulty in finding a room. We ended up at a hotel. Most backpackers stay away from hotels as they think they are all expensive. However, sometimes hotels can work out better value for money if you are looking for a little more comfort.
What I am going to write about today is some of the tour options you have and places that are worth seeing.
Look out! There is a train coming!
Day One: Arrive in Kanchanaburi before noon. Find a guesthouse. We suggest either Jollyfrog Guesthouse or Apple Guesthouse. They both have onsite travel services and good restaurants. VN Guesthouse also has good reviews. If you are staying in a guesthouse on Khao San Road, just ask your fellow travellers going the opposite direction where they stayed. Consider renting a motorcycle for the day. It only costs a few hundred baht and you will be able to see more of the town in a short time.
Your first stop should, of course, be the bridge. Fight through the crowds of package tourists to step onto the bridge. Wow! This isn’t obviously the bridge in the movie. That one was wooden and was located about 50 metres downstream. It was destroyed by the Allies during a bombing raid at the end of the war. Notice the arches on this bridge are curved at the start and end of the bridge. The middle span is a different style. This is because the middle section was bombed by the Americans during the war and that part had to be replaced later.
After that little bit of nostalgia, you should now take time out to pay your respects to the prisoners of wars that died building the infamous Death Railway. The neatly attended cemetery is in the center of town and easy to find. On the western side of the cemetery, you will find the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre. I had never been there before and I found the place to be both modern and informative in telling the story about the building of the railway. It only costs 60 baht for adults (doesn’t use two priced system). I would suggest you go there.
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
If you are a bit of a war buff then there a couple of more museums in town you could visit. My old favourite is the JEATH War Museum. You can find this down by the river next to Wat Chanasongkhram. They have reconstructed the barracks of a prisoner of war camp. There are drawings and pictures you can look at. This was interesting when I first visited nearly ten years ago. But now it isn’t really comparable to the new one by the cemetery. There is also another museum next to the bridge, but again, this is only worth a visit for enthusiasts.
On the other side of the river, there is a quieter cemetery called Chungkai. I went there on a previous trip as I felt it was important to pay respects at all memorials in Kanchanaburi. The question is, where is the memorial for the thousands and thousands of Asian labourers that died? These far outnumbered the Allied prisoners of war deaths.
By this time you probably had enough. If you are staying at Apple Guesthouse then eat there. You can go to eat at their restaurant even if you are not guests. We did. The food is delicious. In town, you will find a number of travel services by the side of the road. There are plenty around so you can easily pick and choose. I suggest you book a tour now that you can go on the next day.
Day two: As this is your only full day, then I suggest you do a tour today. There are quite a few you can do, but one I did when I first came to Thailand included: elephant riding, bamboo rafting, swimming and walking at Erawan Waterfalls, and a scenic ride back on the Death Railway. The last time I did this it cost 500 baht. But, there is now a 200 baht entrance fee for foreigners at all national parks. This tour is now about 850–890 baht and lasts all day.
There are quite a few different tours you can join with different combinations. For example: Elephant ride, bamboo raft, hot springs, Hellfire Pass Memorial, Death Railway, all for only 490 baht. If you don’t want to do the elephant ride and bamboo raft then there is another tour which will give you longer at Erawan Falls for about 570 baht. Most tours will bring you back by about 6 p.m.
Walk through the dragon to some caves at Wat Ban Tam
Day three: This is now your last day. I suggest you rent a motorcycle for the day. Don’t forget to checkout by midday so you will need to split up your day. You have a number of destinations you could go in the morning. You can pick up a free map at the Tourist Authority of Thailand office on the main road. I would strongly suggest exploring the area around Wat Tham Sua. There are quite a few limestone cave temples that you could explore. Some you won’t find in your guidebook. However, the most popular is Wat Tham Sua. Climb to the top of the pagoda for some spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. If you are up to it, consider visiting Wat Tham Mangkon Thong which is otherwise known as the Floating Nun Temple. As the name suggests, you watch a nun floating in a tub of water! Skip it if you don’t have much time.
Make sure you are back at your guesthouse to checkout. Have lunch here then head out towards Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno which is better known as the Tiger Temple. It costs you a 300 baht donation to see the tigers. But you not only have the opportunity to have your photo taken as many times as you like, but you also help contribute to building a better home for the tigers. Make sure you go there after 1.30 p.m. as this is the time the tigers are taken out of their cages for their afternoon walk.
An elephant and a monk at the floating nun temple
There are other places you could see. But, you have by now seen all of the major attractions. There are other national parks, like Sai Yok, you could visit. Also, there is Prasat Muang Singh which is a temple complex dating back to the 12th Century. You can even do longer treks where you can stay overnight in remote villages. Then there are the raft houses where you can spend your time going up and down the river. Endless possibilities. I am already planning my next trip which will probably be next year.
Like I said before, Kanchanaburi is a very big province and there is more to see than what the average tourist gets to visit. Later this week I will tell you about the major destination I visited during my recent trip there. Kanchanaburi city was only two hours from Bangkok. It took me more than six hours to reach my final destination at the far end of Kanchanaburi Province.